definitive debunking of the Churchill myth in five parts , by our
greatest historian of liberty, from The
Costs of War . . . .
Churchill, Part 5
Crimes Discreetly Veiled
are a number of episodes during the war revealing of Churchill's
character that deserve to be mentioned. A relatively minor incident
was the British attack on the French fleet, at Mers-el-Kebir (Oran),
off the coast of Algeria. After the fall of France, Churchill demanded
that the French surrender their fleet to Britain. The French declined,
promising that they would scuttle the ships before allowing them
to fall into German hands. Against the advice of his naval officers,
Churchill ordered British ships off the Algerian coast to open fire.
About 1500 French sailors were killed. This was obviously a war
crime, by anyone's definition: an unprovoked attack on the forces
of an ally without a declaration of war. At Nuremberg, German officers
were sentenced to prison for less. Realizing this, Churchill lied
about Mers-el-Kebir in his history, and suppressed evidence concerning
it in the official British histories of the war. With the attack
on the French fleet, Churchill confirmed his position as the prime
subverter through two world wars of the system of rules of warfare
that had evolved in the West over centuries.
the great war crime which will be forever linked to Churchill's
name is the terror-bombing of the cities of Germany that in the
end cost the lives of around 600,000 civilians and left some 800,000
seriously injured. (Compare this to the roughly 70,000 British lives
lost to German air attacks. In fact, there were nearly as many Frenchmen
killed by Allied air attacks as there were Englishmen killed by
Germans.) The plan was conceived mainly by Churchill's friend and
scientific advisor, Professor Lindemann, and carried out by the
head of Bomber Command, Arthur Harris ("Bomber Harris"). Harris
stated: "In Bomber Command we have always worked on the assumption
that bombing anything in Germany is better than bombing nothing."
Harris and other British airforce leaders boasted that Britain had
been the pioneer in the massive use of strategic bombing. J.M. Spaight,
former Principal Assistant Secretary of the Air Ministry, noted
that while the Germans (and the French) looked on air power as largely
an extension of artillery, a support to the armies in the field,
the British understood its capacity to destroy the enemy's home-base.
They built their bombers and established Bomber Command accordingly.
lying to the House of Commons and the public, Churchill claimed
that only military and industrial installations were targeted. In
fact, the aim was to kill as many civilians as possible thus, "area"
bombing, or "carpet" bombing and in this way to break the morale
of the Germans and terrorize them into surrendering.
at least had the courage of his convictions. He urged that the government
openly announce that:
aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive . . . should be unambiguously
stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German
workers, and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany.
campaign of murder from the air leveled Germany. A thousand-year-old
urban culture was annihilated, as great cities, famed in the annals
of science and art, were reduced to heaps of smoldering ruins. There
were high points: the bombing of Lbeck, when that ancient Hanseatic
town "burned like kindling"; the 1000 bomber raid over Cologne,
and the following raids that somehow, miraculously, mostly spared
the great Cathedral but destroyed the rest of the city, including
thirteen Romanesque churches; the firestorm that consumed Hamburg
and killed some 42,000 people. No wonder that, learning of this,
a civilized European man like Joseph Schumpeter, at Harvard, was
driven to telling "anyone who would listen" that Churchill and Roosevelt
were destroying more than Genghis Khan.
most infamous act was the destruction of Dresden, in February, 1945.
According to the official history of the Royal Air Force: "The destruction
of Germany was by then on a scale which might have appalled Attila
or Genghis Khan." Dresden, which was the capital of the old kingdom
of Saxony, was an indispensable stop on the Grand Tour, the baroque
gem of Europe. The war was practically over, the city filled with
masses of helpless refugees escaping the advancing Red Army. Still,
for three days and nights, from February 13 to 15, Dresden was pounded
with bombs. At least 30,000 people were killed, perhaps as many
as 135,000 or more. The Zwinger Palace; Our Lady's Church (die Frauenkirche);
the Bruhl Terrace, overlooking the Elbe where, in Turgenev's Fathers
and Sons, Uncle Pavel went to spend his last years; the
Semper Opera House, where Richard Strauss conducted the premiere
of Rosenkavalier; and practically everything else was incinerated.
Churchill had fomented it. But he was shaken by the outcry that
followed. While in Georgetown and Hollywood, few had ever heard
of Dresden, the city meant something in Stockholm, Zurich, and the
Vatican, and even in London. What did our hero do? He sent a memorandum
to the Chiefs of Staff:
seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing
of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though
under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise, we shall come
into control of an utterly ruined land. . . . The destruction of
Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.
. . . I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military
objectives . . . rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction,
military chiefs saw through Churchill's contemptible ploy: realizing
that they were being set up, they refused to accept the memorandum.
After the war, Churchill casually disclaimed any knowledge of the
Dresden bombing, saying: "I thought the Americans did it."
still the bombing continued. On March 16, in a period of 20 minutes,
Wrzburg was razed to the ground. As late as the middle of April,
Berlin and Potsdam were bombed yet again, killing another 5,000
civilians. Finally, it stopped; as Bomber Harris noted, there were
essentially no more targets to be bombed in Germany. It need hardly
be recorded that Churchill supported the atom-bombing of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, which resulted in the deaths of another 100,000, or
more, civilians. When Truman fabricated the myth of the "500,000
U.S. lives saved" by avoiding an invasion of the Home Islands the
highest military estimate had been 46,000 Churchill topped his lie:
the atom-bombings had saved 1,200,000 lives, including 1,000,000
Americans, he fantasized.
eagerness with which Churchill directed or applauded the destruction
of cities from the air should raise questions for those who still
consider him the great "conservative" of his or perhaps of all time.
They would do well to consider the judgment of an authentic conservative
like Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, who wrote: "Non-Britishers did not
matter to Mr. Churchill, who sacrificed human beings their lives,
their welfare, their liberty with the same elegant disdain as his
colleague in the White House."
The Dark Side
so we come to 1945 and the ever-radiant triumph of Absolute Good
over Absolute Evil. So potent is the mystique of that year that
the insipid welfare states of today's Europe clutch at it at every
opportunity, in search of a few much-needed shreds of glory.
dark side of that triumph, however, has been all but suppressed.
It is the story of the crimes and atrocities of the victors and
their protgs. Since Winston Churchill played a central role in
the Allied victory, it is the story also of the crimes and atrocities
in which Churchill was implicated. These include the forced repatriation
of some two million Soviet subjects to the Soviet Union. Among these
were tens of thousands who had fought with the Germans against Stalin,
under the sponsorship of General Vlasov and his "Russian Army of
Liberation." This is what Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, in The
their own country, Roosevelt and Churchill are honored as embodiments
of statesmanlike wisdom. To us, in our Russian prison conversations,
their consistent shortsightedness and stupidity stood out as astonishingly
obvious . . . what was the military or political sense in their
surrendering to destruction at Stalin's hands hundreds of thousands
of armed Soviet citizens determined not to surrender.
shameful of all was the handing over of the Cossacks. They had never
been Soviet citizens, since they had fought against the Red Army
in the Civil War and then emigrated. Stalin, understandably, was
particularly keen to get hold of them, and the British obliged.
Solzhenitsyn wrote, of Winston Churchill:
turned over to the Soviet command the Cossack corps of 90,000 men.
Along with them he also handed over many wagonloads of old people,
women, and children. . . . This great hero, monuments to whom will
in time cover all England, ordered that they, too, be surrendered
to their deaths.
"purge" of alleged collaborators in France was a blood-bath that
claimed more victims than the Reign of Terror in the Great Revolution
and not just among those who in one way or other had aided the Germans:
included were any right-wingers the Communist resistance groups
wished to liquidate.
massacres carried out by Churchill's protg, Tito, must be added
to this list: tens of thousands of Croats, not simply the Ustasha,
but any "class-enemies," in classical Communist style. There was
also the murder of some 20,000 Slovene anti-Communist fighters by
Tito and his killing squads. When Tito's Partisans rampaged in Trieste,
which he was attempting to grab in 1945, additional thousands of
Italian anti-Communists were massacred.
the troops of Churchill's Soviet ally swept through central Europe
and the Balkans, the mass deportations began. Some in the British
government had qualms, feeling a certain responsibility. Churchill
would have none of it. In January, 1945, for instance, he noted
to the Foreign Office: "Why are we making a fuss about the Russian
deportations in Rumania of Saxons [Germans] and others? . . . I
cannot see the Russians are wrong in making 100 or 150 thousand
of these people work their passage. . . . I cannot myself consider
that it is wrong of the Russians to take Rumanians of any origin
they like to work in the Russian coal-fields." About 500,000 German
civilians were deported to work in Soviet Russia, in accordance
with Churchill and Roosevelt's agreement at Yalta that such slave
labor constituted a proper form of "reparations."
of all was the expulsion of some 15 million Germans from their ancestral
homelands in East and West Prussia, Silesia, Pomerania, and the
Sudetenland. This was done pursuant to the agreements at Tehran,
where Churchill proposed that Poland be "moved west," and to Churchill's
acquiescence in the Czech leader Eduard Benes's plan for the "ethnic
cleansing" of Bohemia and Moravia. Around one-and-a-half to two
million German civilians died in this process. As the Hungarian
liberal Gaspar Tamas wrote, in driving out the Germans of east-central
Europe, "whose ancestors built our cathedrals, monasteries, universities,
and railroad stations," a whole ancient culture was effaced. But
why should that mean anything to the Churchill devotees who call
themselves "conservatives" in America today?
to top it all, came the Nuremberg Trials, a travesty of justice
condemned by the great Senator Robert Taft, where Stalin's judges
and prosecutors seasoned veterans of the purges of the 30s participated
in another great show-trial.
1946, Churchill was complaining in a voice of outrage of the happenings
in eastern Europe: "From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the
Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended over Europe." Goebbels had
popularized the phrase "iron curtain," but it was accurate enough.
European continent now contained a single, hegemonic power. "As
the blinkers of war were removed," John Charmley writes, "Churchill
began to perceive the magnitude of the mistake which had been made."
In fact, Churchill's own expressions of profound self-doubt consort
oddly with his admirers' retrospective triumphalism. After the war,
he told Robert Boothby: "Historians are apt to judge war ministers
less by the victories achieved under their direction than by the
political results which flowed from them. Judged by that standard,
I am not sure that I shall be held to have done very well." In the
preface to the first volume of his history of World War II, Churchill
explained why he was so troubled:
human tragedy reaches its climax in the fact that after all the
exertions and sacrifices of hundreds of millions of people and of
the victories of the Righteous Cause, we have still not found Peace
or Security, and that we lie in the grip of even worse perils than
those we have surmounted.
V-E Day, he had announced the victory of "the cause of freedom in
every land." But to his private secretary, he mused: "What will
lie between the white snows of Russia and the white cliffs of Dover?"
It was a bit late to raise the question. Really, what are we to
make of a statesman who for years ignored the fact that the extinction
of Germany as a power in Europe entailed . . . certain consequences?
Is this another Bismarck or Metternich we are dealing with here?
Or is it a case of a Woodrow Wilson redivivus of another Prince
the balance of power in Europe wrecked by his own policy, there
was only one recourse open to Churchill: to bring America into Europe
permanently. Thus, his anxious expostulations to the Americans,
including his Fulton, Missouri "Iron Curtain" speech. Having destroyed
Germany as the natural balance to Russia on the continent, he was
now forced to try to embroil the United States in yet another war
this time, a Cold War, that would last 45 years, and change America
fundamentally, and perhaps irrevocably.
Triumph of the Welfare State
1945, general elections were held in Britain, and the Labour Party
won a landslide victory. Clement Attlee, and his colleagues took
power and created the socialist welfare state. But the socializing
of Britain was probably inevitable, given the war. It was a natural
outgrowth of the wartime sense of solidarity and collectivist emotion,
of the feeling that the experience of war had somehow rendered class
structure and hierarchy normal features of any advanced society
obsolete and indecent. And there was a second factor British society
had already been to a large extent socialized in the war years,
under Churchill himself. As Ludwig von Mises wrote:
ever further on the way of interventionism, first Germany, then
Great Britain and many other European countries have adopted central
planning, the Hindenburg pattern of socialism. It is noteworthy
that in Germany the deciding measures were not resorted to by the
Nazis, but some time before Hitler seized power by Brning . . .
and in Great Britain not by the Labour Party but by the Tory Prime
Minister, Mr. Churchill.
Churchill waged war, he allowed Attlee to head various Cabinet committees
on domestic policy and devise proposals on health, unemployment,
education, etc. Churchill himself had already accepted the master-blueprint
for the welfare state, the Beveridge Report. As he put it in a radio
must rank me and my colleagues as strong partisans of national compulsory
insurance for all classes for all purposes from the cradle to the
Mises was correct in his judgment on Churchill's role is indicated
by the conclusion of W. H. Greenleaf, in his monumental study of
individualism and collectivism in modern Britain. Greenleaf states
that it was Churchill who
the war years, instructed R. A. Butler to improve the education
of the people and who accepted and sponsored the idea of a four-year
plan for national development and the commitment to sustain full
employment in the post-war period. As well he approved proposals
to establish a national insurance scheme, services for housing and
health, and was prepared to accept a broadening field of state enterprises.
It was because of this coalition policy that Enoch Powell referred
to the veritable social revolution which occurred in the years 1942
4. Aims of this kind were embodied in the Conservative declaration
of policy issued by the Premier before the 1945 election.
the Tories returned to power in 1951, "Churchill chose a Government
which was the least recognizably Conservative in history." There
was no attempt to roll back the welfare state, and the only industry
that was really reprivatized was road haulage. Churchill "left the
core of its [the Labour government's] work inviolate." The "Conservative"
victory functioned like Republican victories in the United States,
from Eisenhower on to consolidate socialism. Churchill even undertook
to make up for "deficiencies" in the welfare programs of the previous
Labour government, in housing and public works. Most insidiously
of all, he directed his leftist Labour Minister, Walter Monckton,
to appease the unions at all costs. Churchill's surrender to the
unions, "dictated by sheer political expediency," set the stage
for the quagmire in labor relations that prevailed in Britain for
the next two decades.
in truth, Churchill never cared a great deal about domestic affairs,
even welfarism, except as a means of attaining and keeping office.
What he loved was power, and the opportunities power provided to
live a life of drama and struggle and endless war.
is a way of looking at Winston Churchill that is very tempting:
that he was a deeply flawed creature, who was summoned at a critical
moment to do battle with a uniquely appalling evil, and whose very
flaws contributed to a glorious victory in a way, like Merlin, in
C.S. Lewis's great Christian novel, That
Hideous Strength. Such a judgment would, I believe, be superficial.
A candid examination of his career, I suggest, yields a different
conclusion: that, when all is said and done, Winston Churchill was
a Man of Blood and a politico without principle, whose apotheosis
serves to corrupt every standard of honesty and morality in politics
Raico is professor of history at Buffalo State College and a senior
scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
to space limitations, the 169 detailed footnotes which thoroughly
document all assertions in Professor Raico's paperRaico's paper
are not included. They are, of course, included in the printed
version of the paper, published in The Costs of War,
available from the Mises Institute.